City’s Budget Takes Backseat to DDA Issues

Five firefighter positions go, but no police eliminated

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (May 17, 2010): By its second meeting in May, the city of Ann Arbor’s charter stipulates that the city council must adopt a budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

City treasurer Matt Horning. Chief financial officer Tom Crawford in background.

City treasurer Matt Horning. Chief financial officer Tom Crawford in background.

On Monday night, the council unanimously adopted its roughly $78 million general fund budget – as amended to reflect new revenue items. Those new revenue items allowed the council to eliminate five firefighter positions and no police jobs. As originally proposed, the budget would have eliminated 35 fire and police positions combined.

Next year’s work will not be any easier. CFO Tom Crawford said at the meeting that he’s projecting a $5 million deficit in FY 2012.

Deliberations on the budget did not begin until late in the evening. Occupying more of the council’s time than the city’s FY 2011 budget were two issues related to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. One of those issues was a sidewalk occupancy ordinance applicable only within the DDA district. The ordinance, which legalizes the use of sandwich board signs, passed after a failed attempt by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to get it postponed.

The second DDA issue on the agenda involved a $2 million payment from the DDA to the city, which helped the council to amend its budget to reduce layoffs of fire and police. In approving the $2 million payment, the DDA board had included in its resolution a requirement to have a future public process for continued conversations between the city and the DDA about renegotiating a parking agreement between the two entities. From January through April of this year, conversations on that topic between the city and the DDA took place out of public view.

On Monday, the council considered a resolution thanking the DDA for the money and providing a commitment to public process for conversations about the parking agreement – parallel to the public process explicated in the DDA’s resolution. The council resolution passed – stripped of its language about open and transparent process on the grounds that it was redundant – after a brief attempt by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to get the resolution tabled.

In other significant business, mayor John Hieftje nominated a replacement for Ted Annis on the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board: Roger Kerson, who in 2008 contemplated a run for a Ward 5 council seat, but decided against it.

Anya Dale had been nominated by the mayor to replace Paul Ajegba on the AATA board at the council’s previous meeting. On Monday, confirmation of her appointment included one hitch – Sabra Briere (Ward 1) cast a vote against it.

Sandwich Board Signs

Before the council was a revision to the city’s sidewalk occupancy permit system that would allow the use of sandwich board signs in the DDA district. It was the second reading of the ordinance change – the first reading had been approved at the council’s previous meeting on May 3. All ordinances must be approved at two readings at a meeting of council before they’re officially passed. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Give Me a Sign"]

Sandwich Board Signs: Public Hearing

DDA executive director Susan Pollay addressed the council, speaking at the request of the downtown merchant associations. She thanked the council for their work on the ordinance.

Michael Slaughter, who had addressed the council at its previous meeting during public commentary on the same subject, reviewed with the council why he felt the case for sandwich board signs was so strong. He pointed out that there would be some additional dollars for the city that they could collect right away for the sidewalk occupancy fees that would be charged. He also pointed to the higher rents that would result from the additional business that could be done on the second floor of buildings, due to increased traffic they would enjoy from the sandwich board signs. Pointing to the use of sandwich board signs in other college towns, he noted that it was not “some far-out practice.” He also raised the legal issue of commercial free speech.

Sandwich Board Signs: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it was fortunate that the public hearing on the ordinance change had not lasted too long. She stated that the sandwich board signs are, in fact, vital to downtown. She characterized the ordinance as a “simple change” that would allow people to continue to use sandwich board signs. She asked her colleagues on the council to join her in supporting it.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) echoed Briere’s sentiments, and thanked the downtown merchants for their patience. He noted that two areas of concern had been raised. One was about accessibility for the handicapped community and the other concerned the possible proliferation of such signs. However, he concluded, the language of the proposed ordinance change had addressed both concerns.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) focused on changes that had been made to the ordinance between its approval by the council on first reading and the second reading, which they were approving that night. He noted that the first reading version had stipulated a limit of two signs per building, whereas the version they were considering that night had increased the allowable number of signs to two per entrance. Between William Street and Nickels Arcade along State Street, he observed, there were seven doors, which meant 14 potential sandwich board signs, not to mention the numerous bike racks, parking meters, and street signs along that stretch.

Kunselman stated that the change from two signs per building to two per entrance was a substantial one. He wondered if it was a substantial enough change that it would need to be considered as an additional first reading. He said he did not feel the change had been thought through very well. He was concerned that the result would be too many signs and that it would result in a pedestrian-unfriendly environment.

Kunselman also expressed specific concerns about spring-loaded, wind-resistant signs, drawing an analogy between them and branches along a trail in the woods – when the person in front of you walks ahead and pulls back branches so that they snap back.

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, took the podium to answer questions from Kunselman. The change from two signs per building to two per entrance, she said, had emerged as the result of a public meeting held the previous week. She gave the example of Kerrytown, which was a very large building with multiple entrances. It did not seem reasonable to limit the entire building to just two signs. She noted that there was also a limitation of one sign per business.

Speaking specifically to Kunselman’s example of State Street between William and Nickels Arcade, she noted that Bivouac has three entrances and could not – because of the limit of one per business – put a sign at each of those doors. She also pointed out that some of those doors are not primary entrances. She indicated that they had not provided updated information about the situation in other cities with respect to sandwich board signs, because they had been responding to a sense of urgency that the ordinance revision be considered in time for the summer commercial season.

When asked if the staff had met with the Center for Independent Living, Rampson indicated that they had not – meetings the previous week had been limited to stakeholders within the downtown area.

Kunselman then raised a question he’d also asked at the previous meeting of the council, about the businesses outside the DDA district contracting with a business inside the DDA district. Could an outside-the-district business place a sign using a permit obtained by an inside-the-district business? Responding to Kunselman’s question, city attorney Stephen Postema allowed that the ordinance would create “a market” for businesses to do that. He said that would have to be addressed if and when it came up.

Kunselman expressed concern about the fact that the ordinance was designed just for the DDA district and cautioned that businesses like the Pastry Peddler or Blimpie Burger would not be able to use such signs, as they are located outside the district boundary. He cautioned that the city needed to be careful with “how we play favorites.”

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that he was generally supportive of the ordinance revision, but that he had concerns. He was not so much concerned about the number of signs in and of itself, he said, but rather about the signs in conjunction with tables and chairs for sidewalk dining areas, and their location adjacent to handicapped parking spots. He did not feel that the proposed ordinance had received enough deliberation and consultation with the disability community.

He asked what the minimum regulation was for clearance as stipulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rampson told him it was 6 feet. Asked by Rapundalo how that requirement was policed, Rampson said it would be accomplished similarly to the way that sidewalk occupancy permits are already enforced, namely by regular walk-throughs by community standards officers. She noted that the signs are supposed to be removed from the sidewalk every day.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that when the ordinance had been approved at its first reading, the council had asked specifically that the disability community be engaged and she wondered why it was being brought back before that had happened. Rampson answered that staff had felt the ADA issue had been addressed through two requirements: (i) a 6-foot clearance from the building face, and (ii) an 18-inch clearance from the curb.

Higgins indicated that she was hoping for a postponement, and Rapundalo actually moved for the postponement, saying that time should be taken to sit down with the Center for Independent Living. He asked that photographs be taken, preferably from above, and that images be superimposed with sandwich signs,  people, and tables and chairs to test out if it actually works.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he did not feel it was necessary to postpone consideration of the ordinance. He noted that it had been subject to considerable public discussion, and suggested that the Center for Independent Living might be consulted in a way that would “ratify” the ordinance. It was not a fresh subject, he said, and there had been opportunity for input. He observed that post-passage modification could be undertaken if the ordinance was determined to be deficient.

Hohnke stated that he felt the council had some responsibility to move things along at a reasonable pace. He noted that the ordinance as written is compliant with the ADA. He also observed that there are already sandwich boards in use [counter to existing ordinances]. He said he thought it was unlikely that they would see a significant proliferation of signs.

Like Taylor, Hohnke said they could make adjustments as necessary. He observed that any ordinance can pose potential problems, but that did not mean those problems would actually materialize. He noted that when the backyard chicken ordinance was considered, people feared that everyone would have backyard chickens, but that did not happen.

crawford-higgins Ann Arbor Michigan

City of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford confers with Marcia Higgins (Ward 2).

Higgins countered that the Center for Independent Living had addressed the council and asked to be involved. The council had given clear direction, Higgins said, that the CIL would be involved and that had not happened. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) agreed with Taylor and Hohnke, saying that there had been adequate time for public discussion. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he agreed with Higgins and that the council should take two weeks as a postponement, saying that he was concerned about the process. His concerns were not just on behalf of the mobility-impaired community, but also about the site- and hearing-impaired communities.

Responding to the concerns of Higgins, Rapundalo and Derezinski about the involvement of the disability community, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that when the task force had been formed to address a revision to the sign ordinance, a member of the accessibility commission had participated with that body. Although the original ordinance had been crafted to address signs, and the current ordinance was instead a revision to the sidewalk occupancy ordinance, she said, the ordinance before the council that night thoughtfully included the consideration from the sign ordinance. She offered that the sight-impaired community had not been unheard.

Rapundalo, responding to Briere, said he appreciated that kind of input, but that had been a single representative on a task force and not the Center for Independent Living or the commission on disability issues as a body.

Hohnke, responding to Derezinki’s remark about taking two weeks for a postponement, noted that the next council meeting is actually in three weeks, and that factoring in the 10-day requirement stipulated by the city charter before the ordinance could take effect, he cautioned that the summer season would be well underway.

Mayor John Hieftje agreed with Hohnke on that point, saying that they were imagining the “worst that can happen.” He indicated he was willing to let the ordinance be enacted, and was against postponement. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) also argued against postponing the ordinance, saying that the merchants had been pleading with the council for quite some time.

Outcome: The motion to postpone the sidewalk occupancy ordinance revision that would allow the use of sandwich board signs failed, with support only from Derezinski, Rapundalo, Kunselman, and Higgins. Council then continued deliberations on the ordinance.

Deliberating again on the ordinance itself, Higgins came back to the issue of enforceability. She contended that everybody knows there is not 6 feet of walkable space on the sidewalks, and she indicated she did not have a lot of confidence that the city’s handicapped citizens were going to be well served by the ordinance.

Smith said that addressing the “pinching down” of the sidewalk would be complaint driven. She then suggested that a little crowdedness might not be a bad thing, citing the wisdom of Yogi Berra, who said “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Derezinski said he agreed with Smith, saying that he had wanted to delay the ordinance, but did not want to hold it up permanently. However he admonished his colleagues to “remember your arguments. If it goes south, we’ll get the complaints.”

Outcome: The resolution to approve the sidewalk occupancy ordinance revision that would allow the use of sandwich board signs passed, with dissent from Rapundalo and Higgins.

Mutually Beneficial Committee

Before the council was a resolution initiated by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) that acknowledged the DDA’s resolution on May 5, 2010 to pay the city $2 million. The DDA’s resolution had been the result of a term sheet that a “working group” of councilmembers and DDA board members had created to serve as a basis for the renegotiation of a parking agreement between the city and the DDA.

The “working group” approach, which began out of public view in January 2010, reflected a departure from the publicly declared mechanism that the two bodies had enacted to discuss the parking agreement – the appointment of two “mutually beneficial” committees. The fact that the discussions took place out of public view, and in a way that was inaccessible to all members of the DDA board, had sparked dissent at the DDA board meeting when the $2 million was authorized.

In the course of council deliberations on Monday, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) posed the question of whether the council even needed a DDA resolution in order to move the money to the city.

Mutually Beneficial Committee: Public Comment

Ann Arbor DDA board member Jennifer S. Hall addressed the council during public commentary time to clarify the comments she had made recently at the DDA board meeting when that body had authorized a $2 million payment to the city. [Hall voted against the payment.] Hall said she was sorry if the anger and emotion of her remarks at the DDA board meeting had obscured the reasons why she had voted against the payment. She stated that she was not opposed to the $2 million transfer. She had always contended, she said, that the payment should be made in exchange for some specific benefit to the downtown area. In addition, she said, it was important that the reason for the transfer arise out of a public discussion between the city and the DDA.

Up to this point, she said, she did not feel that either of those requirements have been met, and that was the reason she voted against the $2 million payment. Hall pointed to the framework for the public discussions that had been in place between the city and the DDA for over a year. She said that it was her expectation both as a board member and as a citizen that the city-DDA discussions would take place publicly, and that her expectations were based on specific reasons she had given at the DDA board meeting. She indicated that the response to her concerns about public process had been to place on her the burden of finding out when the meetings were to be held. [At the board meeting, fellow board member Roger Hewitt had asked Hall if she had inquired about when the meetings were to take place or had indicated any interest in participating.]

Hall continued, saying that in her view, she should not have to ask for the information but rather that the information should have been there for the taking for anyone who wanted it. She commended Briere and Taylor for bringing forward the council resolution that night, specifying that the meetings of the city council’s mutually beneficial committee would be officially noticed for the public and that meeting reports would be provided to the council.

Hall told the council that she had tried to convince the DDA’s partnerships committee to bring a resolution to the full board making more clear that the mutually beneficial committee of the DDA was a standing committee of the board, with the expectation that its activities would conform to the standard of openness enjoyed by other standing committees.

Hall’s attempt to define the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee clearly as a standing committee, she said, was intended to prevent a redefinition of what the committee actually is – it had recently been recast from a committee to a “working group.” She encouraged councilmembers to support Briere and Taylor’s resolution and said that it would help restore her trust that the city and the DDA would be able to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Part of the term sheet that the city and the DDA will discuss includes a proposal for the DDA to assume responsibility for enforcement of parking codes. Currently the parking codes are enforced by community standards officers, who are members of the city’s AFSCME union.

Nicholas Nightwine, spoke on behalf of the Local 369 AFSCME union on the issue of privatization and the contracting out of work in violation of their union contract. Specifically, he addressed the possibility that parking code enforcement would become the responsibility of Ann Arbor’s DDA. It is community standards officers’ job to provide that enforcement, he said. He questioned why the council would give away union work. He cited the collective bargaining agreement for AFSCME, Article 13, which specifies that no work will be contracted out when union workers are able to perform the tasks. He stated that the possible deal with the DDA on parking enforcement is a violation of the bargaining agreement and said that the AFSCME union would fight it with all legal means. He admonished the council to respect the hard work of the community standards officers.

Mutually Beneficial Committee: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who sponsored the original resolution – and who was subsequently joined by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) in crafting the language in the resolution – led off deliberations by summarizing some of the history involved.

Over the last year, she said, the city council and the DDA had agreed it would be valuable to discuss the future of parking revenues. The city and the DDA had a contract, she reminded everyone, and that contract specified that $10 million would be paid by the DDA to the city over the course of 10 years, starting in 2005. The city had an option to withdraw up to $2 million in any given year. Over the first five years, she said, the city had withdrawn all of the money.

In that context, she said, the two bodies – the city council and the DDA – had considered it a good idea to start renegotiating the contract. The council had appointed a mutually beneficial committee and the DDA board had done the same, she said. “For reasons that escape me,” she said, “they did not meet.” And so, she continued, the contract was not renegotiated. Instead, she said, individual members from each body felt that it was imperative that the situation be addressed, and so a “working group” had come out with some talking points [the term sheet]. That had resulted in a vote at the DDA for a $2 million transfer payment.

However, the DDA’s resolution did not revise the contract into the future, which left the question open of what happens next year. That’s why the council needed to pass this resolution, she said, to re-create the mutually beneficial committee of the city council and to express the council’s desire that the committee should meet to discuss the terms of the parking agreement and that the details be worked out. It was important that the details be worked out in a timely fashion – by Oct. 31, 2010, if not by the end of the fiscal year. It was also important, she said, that the details be worked out as openly as possible. She noted that this was also what the DDA was asking for.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked Briere if she intended the resolution to appoint members of the committee. Briere indicated she felt it was the mayor’s purview to make the appointments. Taylor, for his part, said that he was pleased to bring the resolution to the council, and that he wished to emphasize the part of the resolution expressing thanks to the DDA.

Taylor characterized the term sheet as something that would be tested “through the crucible of conversation” over the rest of the year. If the provisions of the term sheet proved wise, he said, they’ll be adopted and if not, then not. The parts of the resolution that addressed open meetings and transparency, he said, were consistent with something that a constituent had told him and that had stuck with him regarding the expertise and knowledge that existed in the community. There’s so much creativity and skill in the community at large, he said, and it was unwise to leave that “on the table.”

Mutually Beneficial Committee: Redaction of Transparency

Yet Taylor expressed his view that the openness and transparency was bundled into the fact that it would be a committee and the explicit reference to openness and transparency was redundant. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), followed up by thanking Taylor for the last point about redundancy. He indicated he was generally supportive of the resolution but was concerned that the language about open and transparent meetings was redundant. He felt that it implied some kind of less-than-transparent conduct has already occurred. [Editor's note: The Chronicle has thoroughly documented that less-than-transparent conduct, in fact, did occur.] He proposed an amendment striking that language.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked the city’s attorney, Stephen Postema, if a council committee could be subject to the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Postema indicated to Derezinski that it was not the OMA, but rather a council resolution [from 1991] that was the “operative document.” [It requires city committees to adhere to the OMA to the best of their abilities.]

Higgins indicated that this led her to several questions, among them: What is the purpose of the committee? Was it to negotiate a contract? What was the charge to the committee? She indicated she did not see how those questions were addressed in the resolution.

Mayor John Hieftje brought the conversation back to the issue of the amendments proposed by Rapundalo that stripped out the explicit references to open meetings and transparency. Hieftje indicated he would support those amendments.

Outcome: The amendments to the mutually beneficial committee resolution that removed language referring to openness and transparency were approved, with dissent from Briere, Kunselman, and Anglin.

Mutually Beneficial Committee: Appointment of Committee, Tabling Motion

Stephen Kunselman indicated that he felt he was perhaps the most confused person of all at the table. Given the prior existence of the council’s mutually beneficial committee, he said, he wondered why Hieftje did not simply appoint the third committee member. [The council's committee consisted of Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall, and Leigh Greden, but Kunselman defeated Greden in the August 2009 Democratic primary election.]

Stephen Rapundalo then offered his view that the council had not actually created or appointed a committee, citing some “due diligence” work he’d done examining the council’s history from January 2009. He concluded that the only action that the council had taken with respect to the negotiations with the DDA was to pass a resolution in January 2009 calling on the DDA to begin a conversation.

Sandi Smith advised Rapundalo that there had, in fact, been a committee created with Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall, and Leigh Greden. The city clerk, Jackie Beaudry, confirmed that Smith was correct. [Screenshot of publicly accessible Legistar search of council records that citizens can perform themselves via the web.]

fales-lancaster-beaudry Ann Arbor Michigan

Conferring before the meeting were (at right) city clerk Jackie Beaudry, accounting services manager Karen Lancaster, and Mary Fales from the city attorney’s office.

Marcia Higgins pointed to the fact that the mutually beneficial committee had not been included on a list of council committee appointments [handled in November 2009 by Rapundalo] for that council year. But she characterized the failure to include the mutually beneficial committee on the council’s list of committee assignments as an “oversight.”

Based on that new understanding of the historical facts, Rapundalo offered the view that the council did not then need to create a committee if one already existed. Taylor offered his opinion that the November listing of committee assignments amounted to an “exclusive articulation” of committees. If the list didn’t include the committee, he claimed, the committee ceased to exist.

Taylor allowed that he had no problem with using language in the resolution that would indicate the council was now “re-creating” the committee. However, the language of the resolution was not altered to reflect a re-creation of the committee.

A motion was brought and passed to add the committee appointments to the language of the resolution: Hohnke, Teall and Taylor.

Having been appointed to the committee, Hohnke indicated that he was unclear about its function. Taylor said he felt that the charge to the committee was sufficiently clear, namely that it would use the term sheet as a basis for the conversations that would unfold over the next several months. Sabra Briere highlighted the next-to last resolved clause, which stressed the need for staff involvement, saying that would be important to the committee in meeting its charge.

Hohnke then made a motion to table, citing his unclarity about the specific task of the committee on which he was to serve.

Hohnke reiterated his concern that the charge to the committee was not specified in enough detail, but stressed that he also understood the importance of beginning discussions with the DDA. Taylor reiterated his view that the resolution did specify the committee’s task with sufficient clarity, pointing out that the resolution indicated there would be reports back to the council on a monthly basis as to what is going on.

Outcome: Only Kunselman and Anglin supported the motion to table the mutually beneficial resolution, and so the council returned to deliberations on the resolution. [.txt file of resolution as passed]

Mutually Beneficial Committee: The Committee’s Charge

Hieftje then sketched out the concept behind the DDA’s idea of parking enforcement. He described it as a concept akin to an “ambassador.” He offered his view, however, that he felt it would be easier to train the existing community standards officers to enforce parking codes in an ambassador-like fashion as opposed to assigning responsibility for the DDA to contract with a third party to do so.

Hieftje also expressed some concerns about expectations created by the resolution that might not be met. With regard to the monthly meetings, he noted that the DDA board does not typically meet in August. He suggested that it might be worth contemplating the substitution of the word “regular” for “monthly.” Briere responded to Hieftje by saying that the reference to “monthly” is from the DDA’s own resolution.

Higgins asked who the members of the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee were. Smith ticked off the membership: Russ Collins, Roger Hewitt, Gary Boren, and herself. Higgins then expressed concern about Smith sitting on another body’s committee that was having discussions with the city council.

Smith was quick to respond to Higgins’ remarks by indicating that if there was a strong feeling on the part of the city council, then she would resign her committee membership on the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee. However, she told Higgins that she’d thought about the issue a lot. Smith said she felt she had an opportunity to provide insight into both organizations. She also said that up to that point, she had helped the two organizations get past some historical hard feelings – she characterized it as a “clash of cultures.”

Smith said the DDA may or may not be interested in doing any of the items listed on the term sheet. Smith then floated the idea that both the city council and the DDA board would meet together as entire bodies.

Higgins picked up on Smith’s offer to resign from the committee by indicating she wanted to request that Smith not be a member of the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee. Rapundalo echoed Higgins’ request, saying he meant no disrespect to Smith. However, he said that if she were removed from that committee, he would be more comfortable.

Hieftje noted that Smith brought a great deal of knowledge to the work. And Teall echoed Hieftje’s sentiments that Smith’s skills and knowledge would be useful. Hieftje also suggested that the work going forward should not be thought of as a negotiation but rather a conversation.

Hieftje then alluded to the recent history of how the term sheet had been brought forward – first introduced at the DDA’s operations committee, and then to the full DDA board. At those meetings, he said that comments have been made about the history of the parking agreement that were not consistent with the “recollections of councilmembers” who had participated in the negotiations in 2005. Hieftje said he just wanted to get that on the record. He characterized some of the statements made during public commentary about the history of the parking negotiations as bearing “little relationship with the truth.” [He was apparently alluding to the comments of former DDA board member Rene Greff, but did not name her. She was the public speaker at the meeting who discussed the history of the 2005 parking agreement.]

Kunselman came back to his point about the basic framework as expressed in the term sheet. In particular, he was concerned about the language referring to the DDA being given primary responsibility for enforcement of parking codes. “It creates a shadow government,” he warned. He contended that community standards officers are meeting the needs of the community.

Teall countered that it was not necessary to agree with all of the language expressed in the framework. There are details that have to be worked out yet, she said.

Kunselman clarified that it was the entire purpose of the framework that he took issue with, saying it took the city in the direction of transferring responsibility for parking enforcement throughout the city to the DDA. Kunselman declared, “I will not abdicate my responsibility to a third-party contractor for the health, safety and welfare [of our community].” The council would not be doing that on his vote, he declared.

Higgins then offered her perspective that it was not necessary to agree with everything in the term sheet. She indicated that Smith had told her that not everyone on the DDA agreed with everything in the term sheet, either. Higgins seemed to indicate that this was a natural consequence of the fact that the conversations of the working group had not been “sanctioned” by either the city council or the DDA. She indicated that she would be supporting the resolution.

Taylor, arguing for the resolution, noted that the term sheet speaks in generalities and that the specifics would get “whacked out” in the course of conversation. On Hieftje’s suggestion, the word “discussion” was inserted in place of “agreement” to indicate what the term sheet would underpin. That suggestion was accepted as a “friendly” amendment by Briere and Taylor.

Outcome: The resolution on the council’s mutually beneficial committee was unanimously approved.

Mutually Beneficial Committee: DDA as Organ of the City

While the council spends its time focus almost exclusively on the general fund budget, all of the various funds included in the whole of the city budget – from the city’s solid waste fund, to the DDA funds, to the AATA funds – total around $342 million. And when the council votes each year on the budget, it’s voting to approve that entire amount of expenditures.

During the deliberations on tabling the resolution on the mutually beneficial committee, Stephen Kunselman departed from the issue of the tabling motion that was under discussion and posed a fairly dramatic question, which can be paraphrased:

Does the city council have the authority to move money from the DDA’s parking fund to the city’s general fund, without consulting the DDA?

During deliberations, Kunselman indicated that he did not feel the DDA had a position of strength from which to tell the city what they would like to do. He stressed the fact that the city owned the parking system. He weighed in against the idea that there would be a “shadow government” run by the DDA.

Sandi Smith responded to Kunselman by indicating that the original 2002 parking agreement between the city and the DDA did, in fact, grant to the DDA the authority to manage the parking system and that there were currently five years left in the contract. [It was subsequently modified in 2005.] Marcia Higgins then wondered aloud, asking if Kunselman and Smith’s conversation really related to the tabling motion. And the council returned to the issue at hand.

While the topic of the city’s authority with respect to the DDA budget was not explored further at the council meeting, it’s worth reviewing a piece of history from 2007, when the council passed its FY 2008 budget. That year, one of the budget resolutions approved by the council reached into the DDA’s budget and reduced an allocation for capital expenditures within the DDA’s TIF (tax-increment financing) fund. [The city calls this fund 0003.] From the May 21, 2007 city council minutes:

[FY 2008 budget] Amendment 11
Resolved, that the Downtown Development Authority fund (0003) expenditure budget be decreased by $1,600,000 to reduce the appropriated reserves for future capital construction projects.

On a voice vote, the Mayor [John Hieftje] declared the motion carried with one dissenting vote made by Councilmember [Joan] Lowenstein.

Based on that vote, it appears that the city council has in the past asserted some direct control over the DDA’s budget.

FY 2011 Budget

In addition to eight separate budget amendments to the main budget resolution, the council entertained an independent resolution that replaced a previous council resolution governing how the park maintenance and improvements millage was allocated, as well as one that increased the parking fine rate schedule.

FY 2011 Budget: Parks Maintenance Millage

Added the same day as the council meeting was a resolution to replace a previous council resolution, plus several amendments that address the administration of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) explained the rationale behind rescinding and replacing the entire resolution – to clean it up so that it’s more readable. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) questioned why it had not appeared on the agenda until that day. Higgins indicated that she had not yet been supplied with a software patch that would allow her to open certain documents on her computer and that the discussion had unfolded over the course of 10 days and they simply wanted to make sure they had got it exactly right. She apologized for the fact that it had appeared late on the agenda.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked what the budget impact would be of postponing the resolution for two weeks. City administrator Roger Fraser indicated that the effect is in the recommended budget. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) assured his colleagues that the park advisory commission –  on which he serves as a city council ex officio member without voting privileges – had had a full discussion of the matter.

Higgins indicated that part of the reason for considering it separately from the budget was so that people could more easily find it. Summarizing what the effect of the resolution was, Fraser indicated that the previous resolution had entailed that the natural area preservation (NAP) program would automatically be given a 3% increase in its budget each year.

The resolution before the council that night, Fraser said, removes that provision – they don’t get an increase, he said. Taylor cautioned that his understanding was that the revenue to NAP in this first year was more in the vein of a rollback and would not remain simply flat.

The text of the new resolution indicates that the 3% increases NAP has enjoyed would be eliminated, going back to the first year of the millage.

3. The Natural Area Preservation Program budget be established at a minimum of $700,000 for first year of the millage budget, and that its budget be reflective of its proportionate share of the increase or decrease in revenue recognized from the Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage proceeds;

Discussion at the city’s park advisory commission meeting of April 20, 2010 also supports Taylor’s contention. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:

Scott Rosencrans asked how the cuts to the Natural Area Preservation program (NAP) would affect its work. When Tim Berla commented that it wasn’t really a cut – it was simply not an increase – Sam Offen clarified that it was, in fact, a cut of more than 3%. The proposal called for rolling back the 3% increases NAP has received each year since the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage was passed, so it’s actually a 12% budget reduction, he said, taking them back to their 2007 budget level of about $695,000

Outcome: The elimination of the automatic 3% increase for the natural area preservation program was unanimously approved.

FY 2011 Budget: Parking Fine Schedule

Before the council was a resolution on the parking fine schedule that had previously been postponed from the Jan. 19 and April 19 council meetings. The resolution increased the schedule of parking fines for the city. Last week, Carsten Hohnke had suggested a further revision that addressed how loading zones were handled.

Instead of pursuing an option that had been suggested by city staff to create a loading zone permitting system, the fine for improper loading zone parking would simply be increased from $35 to $45. Hohnke characterized it as a way to avoid disrupting a system that was working okay.

A discussion unfolded based on a statement by Hohnke, pointed out by Stephen Kunselman, about the difference between a discounted rate for early payment versus the end result of applying the discount. For example, if the fine is $45 with a $10 discount, that results in a discounted rate of $35. The chart used by the city includes a column head that simply indicates “discount,” which is properly interpreted as “discounted rate” not “discount.”

Outcome: The parking fine schedule was unanimously approved.

FY 2011 Budget: Amendment on Safety Services

Margie Teall (Ward 4) read the first budget amendment – it identified three major new revenue items – a $2 million payment from Ann Arbor DDA, $952,000 of state shared revenue that the city administrator’s budget did not project, and $625,000 in increased parking fine revenues. A $62,000 reduction in the fire department capital expense budget brought the total of extra money in the budget due to that amendment to $3.639 million. The first budget amendment used $1,585,783 to pay for 15 police positions that the originally proposed budget had eliminated. The amendment also used $1,509,620 to pay for 15 firefighter positions that were to be eliminated. That left five firefighter positions still to be cut.

Mayor John Hieftje called the two chiefs of the safety services departments – Barnett Jones (police) and Dominick Lanza (fire) to the podium. Hieftje elicited from Jones confirmation that the impact of the budget amendment would leave current staffing levels unchanged.

The conversation with the fire chief was somewhat less straightforward, given that the amendment still left five positions in the department that would be eliminated. However, the mayor was able to get the fire chief to confirm that even with the reduced staffing, the fire department would still be able to provide four firefighters on the scene in rapid response and could later provide 18 to the scene.

Hieftje then said that he would ideally like to see the situation worked out so that there are no actual layoffs. The fire chief indicated that with the reorganization he had in mind – he started on the job around two months ago – there would be a net loss of three positions and there were six or seven retirements that could factor into the equation. Credit for military service time was an issue that would also factor in, he said.

four-fire-men Ann Arbor Michigan

Rapid response standards for firefighting include putting four firefighters on the scene in four minutes – like these four Ann Arbor firefighters, who were among several attending the city council meeting. The yellow sheets are council meeting agendas. Right to left: Mark Hanselman, Rob Porter, Tilvis Bolen, and Matt Gaken.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) called the expenditure for the police and fire positions a “right and proper” use of funds that had resulted from the transfer from the DDA. He offered thanks to the council’s DDA colleagues. He said he appreciated the added flexibility that the council had, which the city administrator did not have when he prepared his budget.

Hieftje followed up on Hohnke’s comment about the lack of flexibility that the city administrator had, contending that Fraser had no way of knowing that the $2 million would be forthcoming, or that the city council would approve the parking fine increase.

With respect to the changes in state shared revenue projections that the council was using, Hieftje said the current state budget proposal in the state Senate calls for only a slight decrease in state shared revenue and the House version calls for a slight increase. Based on conversations he’s had with the city’s lobbyist, Kirk Profit, over the last few weeks, Hieftje said the council is optimistic that state shared revenues will remain constant instead of getting cut in half as assumed in the administrator’s budget. Hieftje contended that it is “with more than hope” that state shared revenue projections are thought to remain the same.

Picking up on the theme of hope, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that she was “not a big fan of speculative budgeting.” However, she allowed that there is no other way to do a budget – you have to imagine what the revenue will be and you have to imagine what the expenditures will. It’s the same situation the council is always in, she said: Many of the revenue streams are tentative. She noted that the the budget looks better than it looked two months ago. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she was pleased with the amendment.

Outcome: The amendment was unanimously approved.

FY 2011 Budget: Amendment on Human Services

The expenditure on police and fire positions dropped the amount of extra money identified in the budget to $543,587.

In the second budget amendment, also read aloud by Margie Teall (Ward 4), another $260,000 of that was expended in order to add to the human services budget. That brought human services spending in the city back to the same levels as the previous year.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) indicated that she had co-sponsored the amendment, because the two things she had heard from constituents that cause them the most concern were safety and human services issues. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) also indicated strong support for the amendment. Mayor John Hieftje pointed out that Ann Arbor is one of only two cities in the state that funds human services.

Outcome: The amendment was unanimously approved.

FY 2011 Budget: Amendment on Parks Mowing/Parking

The third budget amendment finished off all but around $500 of the extra money identified in the first budget amendment. It called for increased mowing ($138,000) and trimming ($120,000) in parks, and eliminated the possibility of football parking at Allmendinger and Frisinger parks, which reduced projected revenues by $25,000.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was not convinced that mowing and trimming in parks was the best use of the money. She was looking ahead to another amendment that proposed to undo the proposed de-energizing of some streetlights. She said she saw it as a safety versus shagginess-in-the-parks issue. She proposed altering the amendment to eliminate the mowing and trimming expenditures, but left the idea of no parking in the parks intact. Her motion was seconded by Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he would not support that amendment. He said he had heard  from a lot his constituents about parks. He also pointed to the fact that he coaches a kids soccer team and quipped that there were “dandelions on the pitch!” Briere confirmed that the city was already on a 19-day cycle, which Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, said was the city’s first experience in a spring season with that long a mowing cycle.

McCormick also said that the weather this year had meant a very early spring – the city was currently already engaged in its third cycle of mowing. Smith’s proposed alteration of the amendment failed.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he had a vague memory about proposals for parking cars in the parks on football Saturdays and said he wanted to eliminate the idea for all future consideration. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that it had been discussed in the past but that this year was the first time it’s actually appeared in a proposed budget. Mayor John Hieftje then contended that the city’s park advisory commission had recommended it.

In fact, the idea of football parking in Frisinger had some city council history last fall. From The Chronicle’s Oct. 5, 2009 meeting report:

Placed on the agenda on Oct. 2, with sponsorship from Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5), was a resolution that would have allowed the city to generate revenue from parking cars in Frisinger Park on home football Saturdays. Frisinger Park is just south of East Stadium Boulevard between Woodbury and Iroquois. It was pulled off the agenda on Oct. 5.

Here’s how the resolution read:

Whereas, Frisinger Park is well situated to provide special event parking, in particular for University of Michigan home football games; and

Whereas, The City is providing home football game parking at other City-owned facilities, including its facility on S. Industrial and these parking revenues are a new source of funds for the City which is striving to maintain high quality level of service for its citizens;

Resolved, That the City Administrator establish a parking program for University of Michigan home football days at Frisinger Park, including the option for pre-game/post-game tailgating.

The football parking proposal was an idea that came in the “turning over every stone” approach that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) has been taking to find a way to generate the revenue that would go missing if parking meters are not installed in certain neighborhoods near downtown, which is an assumption currently built into the budget for FY 2010 passed by city council.

In deliberations about the extension of the moratorium on installation of parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown – which came later in the meeting – Margie Teall (Ward 4) gave perhaps some insight into why the Frisinger Park parking resolution had been pulled from the agenda. She said she would simply not support football parking in Frisinger Park. The park is located in Ward 4, which she represents.

Kunselman asked if the amendment could be altered to explicitly direct the city administrator to forgo any further future contemplation of parking cars in the parks. The city attorney’s opinion on the matter was that such an amendment would seek effectively to bind the hands of future councils. Picking up on Hieftje’s comment about the park advisory commission, Higgins asked how the commission had the ability to change the use of a park.

Addressing Kunselman’s question about the future of proposals for football parking in the city’s parks, Hieftje said he thought that Fraser had gotten the message. Taylor then repeated a defense of the park advisory commission that he had given at a previous meeting – the commission had had a difficult task and they had suggested that the football parking be only on a pilot basis. He said he did not think that a single one of the commissioners was enthusiastic about the idea – it had been the result of the severe budgetary constraints. [Taylor serves, along with Mike Anglin, on the park advisory commission as an ex officio non-voting member.]

Outcome: The amendment was approved, with dissent from Smith.

FY 2011 Budget: Construction Contractor Fees

The fourth budget amendment addressed fee increases, with proceeds going into the construction code fund. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had proposed the amendment. She said the test for fee increases was whether they provided an increased benefit. She’d been told the fee increases provide increased revenues, but that all by itself she didn’t feel this was a worthy enough reason. She indicated that the construction fund balance was not high due to a lack of construction activity. The fee increases wouldn’t result in improving things for contractors, she said.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked Sumedh Bahl, the interim community services area administrator, about the history of the fund balance in the construction code fund was and what it paid for. Bahl clarified that it pays for construction inspections.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) would later elicit the history of the construction code fund. It had been established in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the Home Builders Association. The outcome of that lawsuit was that the city isolated all the costs and expenses for construction activity services. It was established in 2005 and in that year a $650,000 transfer was made into the fund. The fund balance that year was $1.1 million.

In 2006, a $260,000 transfer was made and the fund balance was $1.3 million. Thereafter, $100,000 transfers from the general fund have been made. The $100,000 transfers will continue at least through 2014. In 2007, the fund balance was $1.6 million and in 2008 it was $1.875 million. From this, Sabra Briere concluded that the code fund did not “stand alone.” The fact that the construction code fund balance stood at $0.8 million at the end of 2009 indicated to her that it’s a fund that fluctuates.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)  indicated that he would not support the amendment because he felt it was “not burdensome” to contractors. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) agreed, pointing to the current rate of $1 per year paid by plumbing contractors.

Outcome: The amendment failed, with support only from Briere, Kunselman, Anglin.

FY 2011 Budget: Rental Housing Inspection Fees

The fifth budget amendment proposed would have eliminated increases in rental housing inspection fees. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) offered the amendment, saying she took to heart the idea of not using prior year’s fund balances to offset increases, which the amendment would do. But she noted that planning services did not intend to invest the additional revenues from the proposed increases in increased levels of service for rental housing inspection.

Briere noted that fees had been increased last year as well as the year before. She observed that rental housing inspections are required by law on a 30-month cycle and she indicated that the quality and the number of the inspections would not be affected by the increases. The purpose of the increases as they had been explained to her, she said, was simply to generate additional revenue. She indicated that the fees are meant to reflect the cost of doing business.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she had spoken with representatives from the Home Builders Association and said they were actually quite pleased with the level of service for rental housing inspection, which had been increased. Mayor John Hieftje suggested that the idea was perhaps not to add to the level of service but simply to maintain it. The city administrator, Roger Fraser, said that in general the city took the position that the fees needed to recover the cost of providing service, and that historically the general fund had been subsidizing rental housing inspection activities.

Outcome: The amendment failed, with support only from Briere and Kunselman.

FY 2011 Budget: Tax Administration Fee

An amendment proposed by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) would have changed the rate at which the tax administration fee for the city is assessed. He reviewed the history of an increase made in 2007 for the FY 2008 budget from 0.81% to a full 1%.

He noted that a request had not been made by the city administrator in the proposed budget for that year. He observed that property owners would benefit. He suggested that the council send a few dollars back to the taxpayers, allowing that the average amount worked out to something like $9 per parcel, which he characterized as “not big bucks.”

As far as the principle of finding revenue to take up the resulting shortfall from the decrease in the administration fee, Kunselman observed that the city administrator had proposed a budget that already dipped into the city’s general fund reserve for $1.5 million.

Kunselman pointed out that the increase made for the FY 2008 budget was not designed to fill holes in the financial services unit budget. In fact, he said, there had been no changes in staffing levels in that unit from 2008 to now – eight FTEs in the assessor’s office and 5.3 FTEs in the treasurer’s office in 2008, compared to eight FTEs in the assessor’s office today and 4.7 FTEs in the treasurer’s office. Now, Kunselman contended, was an appropriate time to send a few dollars back to the taxpayers.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated agreement with Kunselman in general terms, saying he thought it would be a good, albeit symbolic gesture. However, he said he would argue that the level of activities in the financial services office had, in fact, increased due to increased numbers of reviews and appeals. He said he was worried that reducing the fee would not account for the true cost of administering the property tax collections. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) got confirmation from city administrator Roger Fraser that of the cities statewide that assess the fee, without exception they assess at the 1% level.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he would be willing to let his $9 sit there – he compared the amount to three ice cream cones at the Washtenaw Dairy.

Outcome: The amendment failed, with support only from Briere, Kunselman, and Anglin.

FY 2011 Budget: Parking Fine Schedule

The basis for one of the budget amendments had been created when council approved the parking fine schedule earlier in the evening. It had provided for an increased fine for improper parking in a loading zone, instead of implementing a new loading zone permitting system.

The amendment eliminated the loading zone permitting program and increased the projected revenue budget line for parking fines by $25,700. City treasurer Matthew Horning confirmed that he was quite confident in the projected additional revenues of $25,700 – it was based on FY 2008 and the actual number of tickets written.

Outcome: The amendment was unanimously approved.

FY 2011 Budget: Streetlights

An amendment proposed by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) called for the city to abandon its plan to de-energize some of the city’s streetlights. The move to turn off some of the lights is intended to save $120,000. Smith said she talked to a DTE representative who had said they would tag every pole and put a sign on it saying that it had been de-energized by order of the city council.

She said she had tried to find savings in the budget. Her attempt earlier in the meeting to swap trimming/mowing in the parks for streetlight funding was not supported by the majority of her colleagues.  She suggested that one place savings might be found would be in the LED streetlights the council had authorized for purchase earlier in the evening. Multiplied by 800 lights, $107 per light resulted in more than $80,000 savings, she said.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) worried about the possibility of de-energizing streetlights. He thought it was perhaps a highway exception to general governmental immunity. Public services area administrator Sue McCormick noted that there was variability in lighting already – some residential areas have no lighting, some of them had lighting just at the street corners. She also noted that the areas where the de-energized lights were proposed were already lighted at twice the standard. Mayor John Hieftje asked if it was possible to get a demo.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he was apprehensive about the designation of certain areas as “overlit.” He indicated that there were certain areas of the city classified as overlit that he did not find to be overlit. Hieftje indicated he would not support the amendment but would support a demonstration. He said he was concerned about the $120,000 that would need to come out of the city’s reserve, if the city did not go through with turning off some of the streetlights.

Outcome: The amendment to keep all the streetlights on failed, with support only from Briere, Derezinski, Kunselman, and Smith.

FY 2011 Budget: Coda – What About FY 2012?

In some concluding remarks about the budget, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said the council would probably feel pretty good about what they’ve done, having saved jobs. But he wondered what the projected deficit might be for FY 2012. Responding to the question, chief financial officer Tom Crawford put that number at $5 million. After the meeting, Crawford clarified for The Chronicle that the projected deficit of $5 million for FY 2012 includes as assumptions: (i) an additional $2 million from the Ann Arbor DDA, and (ii) reductions in the state shared revenue for FY 2011 and FY 2012 of $1 million each year.

tom-crawford-sitting-alone Ann Arbor Michigan

Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, sits at the ready for council questions.

If the city council’s optimism on state shared revenues are borne out, and those revenues from the state stay at the FY 2010 level, that would translate into just a $3 million deficit for FY 2012, all other things being equal.

Kunselman confirmed with city administrator Roger Fraser that the city’s capital improvements plan did not include a runway extension of the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

Kunselman expressed his thanks to Fraser, city attorney Stephen Postema, and all the staff still in the room, who he said had worked hard to make the budget happen.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he felt the budget as amended was healthy and fiscally responsible. He thanked citizens for their help in particular with the task forces that had kept the Ann Arbor Senior Center and Mack Pool open.

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board

Terms of two AATA board members expired on May 1, 2010 – Paul Ajegba and Ted Annis. At the council’s previous meeting, mayor John Hieftje had nominated a replacement for Ajegba: Anya Dale, a Washtenaw County planner who also serves on the city’s environmental commission.

AATA Board: Public Commentary

Speaking to many of the same themes that he had addressed at the most recent meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s board, Tim Hull stated that the AATA did an overall decent job operating the bus system. But he criticized the AATA for having few avenues for public input beyond what is required by law. He called for the creation of a public advisory body for the fixed route system, analogous to the advisory body that advocates for handicapped people – the local advisory commission (LAC).

Hull noted that there is not a single bus that runs after 6:45 p.m. on weekends. He suggested that candidates for the AATA board should answer three questions: (i) Are you committed to expanding input from the community with an advisory board? (ii) Are you committed to using taxpayer funds, paid by Ann Arbor property taxpayers, for transportation services for Ann Arbor taxpayers, not commuters? (iii) Are you in favor of exploring the expansion of night and weekend service? Hull told the council members that they needed to ask these questions.

AATA Board: Council Deliberations

In a final business of the evening, mayor John Hieftje asked for confirmation of Anya Dale to replace Paul Ajegba on the AATA board. Ajegba did not seek re-appointment. Hieftje had nominated Dale at the previous council’s meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that Dale’s position with the county as a planner creates a possible conflict. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that he had received emails on Dale’s nomination with concerns about the number of different commissions on which Dale serves. He added that he felt the process for the nomination should become more transparent.

Anya Dale

Chronicle file photo from a recent city council public hearing on The Moravian: Anya Dale

Hieftje indicated that he hoped that Dale would use her position on the environmental commission to create a synergy. Anglin agreed that having expertise and experience with two different bodies would be useful, and gave the example of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wearing “two hats,” serving on both the city council and the DDA board.

Anglin said he would support this specific nomination, but said he would like to see the council ask in a more effective way: Who would like to serve? Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) weighed in with his support for Dale as a nominee based on his experience when he’d crossed paths with the city council’s liaison to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked when the next AATA board meeting was – it’s not until towards the end of June. He asked if it was not possible to postpone the confirmation and have both Dale and Roger Kerson, who was also being nominated that night, come to the council and introduce themselves. [Kerson, who was nominated to replace Ted Annis, is public relations director with the United Auto Workers (UAW). He'd entertained a run for a Ward 5 city council seat in 2008, but ultimately decided not to run.]

Responding to Kunselman on the suggestion to delay, Hieftje conveyed some irritation and said that he would like to see the nomination of Dale confirmed that evening and have a process followed that the council had used for years. He added that Dale rides the bus.

Outcome: Dale was confirmed, with dissent from Briere. Rapundalo left before voting. The nomination for Kerson will come for confirmation at the council’s next meeting.

Liquor Licenses

Before the council was a resolution to approve issuance of a downtown development district liquor license to the New York Pizza Depot. It came before the council on a 2-1 vote from the council’s liquor license review committee. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who chairs that council committee, indicated that he had been the dissenting vote and would not be supporting the issuance of the license. He noted that such licenses are meant to be an economic development tool and that he had tried to make his decisions on such licenses consistent across applications.

Specifically, such licenses are meant to provide a benefit to the community. In the case of the New York Pizza Depot, he contended, the petitioner could not show any anticipated growth in employment due to the issuance of the license. In addition, Rapundalo said, a consideration for issuance was the location – is it unique? The existing density of licenses in the area, he said, did not indicate to him a dire need for an establishment of that kind.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who also serves on the council’s liquor committee, said that Rapundalo had accurately depicted what he’d said at the committee’s meeting. However, he and the council’s other committee member, Mike Anglin (Ward 5), saw the situation differently. Having the license would allow the business to grow, he said, and the applicant had said they did not know if it would result in an increase in the number of employees. He characterized the applicant statement as “candid.”

Derezinski said one reason to grant a license was so as not to disadvantage their establishment in contrast to others. He adduced the analogy of a small town with one lawyer, who starves, but with two lawyers, they both get rich.

Anglin said the applicant had met the criteria for issuance of the license, by making a $75,000 investment in their establishment. Rapundalo allowed that no doubt a license would benefit their business, but reiterated the basis of his concerns, which had to do with consistency in application of the standards. The criteria that Anglin referenced, he said, was for minimum requirements – just because they meet the minimum requirement does not mean they get a license. Rapundalo contrasted New York Pizza Depot with other applicants, who had been able to demonstrate an increase in estimated employment.

Outcome: The issuance of a downtown development district liquor license to New York Pizza Depot was approved, with dissent from Rapundalo.

Water Fund

Funding for maintenance of Argo Dam is paid for out of the city’s drinking water fund. Councilmembers, including the mayor, and city staff have indicated over the course of the last several months that the issue of  dam maintenance funding would be addressed during the normal budgeting process. [Chronicle coverage of  dam maintenance funding was included in the report from the May 16, 2010 Sunday night caucus.]

But the city administrator’s proposed budget kept the funding of dam maintenance in the drinking water fund. Asked by The Chronicle via email to clarify what had happened with the intention to shift the funding of recreational dams out of the drinking water fund, Hieftje wrote in reply:

I have been busy working on solving the Safety Services issues and I am probably not alone on council in having expected the suggestion to move the funding out of water would come from staff. I can think of two reasons it did not.

The departure of Jane [sic] Miller and the settlement with the DNRE that has set discussion of Argo Dam issues on their own timetable. I expect funding sources will be coming up when the issue comes back to council.


Typical for any city council meeting are a range of public commentary and communications from councilmembers that do not fit into a neat category.

National Guard and Reserve

For the second successive council meeting, an item has appeared on the council’s agenda that affirms the city’s support of the Michigan Committee for Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve. And for the second successive meeting there was no representative to receive the proclamation. Hieftje elected to go ahead and read the statement of support. It included a recognition of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Uniting Michigan

During his public commentary, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democrat residing in the 18th state senate district, who had formally filed as a candidate for that seat. He described the 18th district as including the city of Ann Arbor and more than half of Washtenaw County. He stressed the importance of uniting the city itself as well as other cities in Washtenaw County and the entire state of Michigan. He said we must join together to protect society’s most vulnerable populations – senior citizens and the handicapped. He called on the city council to work cooperatively with each other and with other municipalities – not in competition – to bring about true progress by providing jobs and economic development. He stressed the goals of transportation, afffordable housing, healthcare, and education.

Legitimacy of Israel

Henry Herskovitz spoke on the issue of the legitimacy of the state of Israel. He cited remarks made by Rabbi Robert Dobrusin of Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel congregation in 2003 about the right to reject conversation from those who were not willing to predicate discussions on an assumption that the state of Israel was legitimate. Herskovitz also cited a 2007 op-ed piece by Dobrusin published in the Ann Arbor News, that made a similar point. He posed the question of why the rabbi would want to make that question of Israel’s legitimacy off limits. Herskovitz contended that the rabbi could not defend it, and he therefore chose to take it off the table. Herskovitz encouraged people to attend the presentation by BBC correspondent Alan Hunt Hart the following evening at the first United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. and to read Hunt’s book, “Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews.”

Future of Library Lot

Alan Haber told the council that the Community Commons was still on his mind. [Haber, with Alice Ralph, helped co-author a proposal for the future of the Library Lot downtown, called the Community Commons.] He noted that the “heart of Ann Arbor” remains undeveloped. He wondered why the committee charged with the task of overseeing the site’s future had not met recently, and he wondered if the consultant – which the DDA had allocated money for – had been hired.

Parks and Volunteers

During her communications from council, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) recognized all the people who had helped out on the previous Saturday’s Adopt-a-Park program. She indicated that she had participated at Allmendinger Park hauling mulch. She thanked all the volunteers who had helped. Mayor John Hieftje noted that there had been a record turnout.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) alerted the public to the fact that the park advisory commission had been brought up to date about some art to be installed in the Huron River. [Recent Chronicle coverage of William Dennisuk's project and installation.] Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) complimented the residents along Iroquois for being creative in taking it upon themselves to take over trash removal and mowing for a summer for one of their neighborhood parks. She thanked them for their efforts.

In news from the parks and recreation programs, city administrator Roger Fraser told the council that the three city pools were set to open on Saturday, May 29, and at that season passes could be purchased before the opening date at a special rate. On May 12, he reported, the stop log had been removed from the Argo Dam headrace, and it was being gradually refilled.

Local Food

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that Gov. Jennifer Granholm had declared that week “local food week” and she asked the city to challenge itself to have a look at its procurement processes to see if there were opportunities to source food locally.

Bridges, Trains, Streets

Mayor John Hieftje reported that the deputy U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Congressman John Dingell had paid a visit to Ann Arbor. During a morning meeting, local officials and city staff had shared information with the deputy secretary about the Stadium Boulevard bridges and had made a field trip to the bridges. He noted that the deputy secretary had remarked that there were bridges like that all over the United States, highlighting the fact that federal funding in the form of TIGER 2 grants was extremely competitive.

Nevertheless, Hieftje said, he felt the city had made a strong presentation. Hieftje also reported that at an afternoon meeting they had been joined by Congressman Mark Schauer, representatives of Amtrak and Norfolk Southern railroad as well as the mayor of Dearborn to discuss commuter rail and high-speed rail. Congressman Schauer, Hieftje noted, is on the House transportation committee. Improvements to the railroad tracks that would facilitate high-speed rail, Hieftje pointed out, would also benefit commuter rail.

City administrator Roger Fraser, during his communications to the council, ticked through a number of street resurfacing projects that would be starting soon.

Fraser also called the public’s attention to the meeting on June 8, 2010, on the connector feasibility study. There would be an additional meeting on the Fuller Road Station, with its date not yet certain, he said.

In his progress report on the construction of the new municipal center, Fraser noted that most of the exterior work is done and that radon abatement equipment has been deployed.

Free Speech Not Abridged

In his communications, Hieftje passed along a compliment from the American Civil Liberties Union about the way the city had handled free speech and expression during the May 2 visit to Ann Arbor by President Obama, for the University of Michigan commencement exercises. The ACLU, he said, had had 11 legal observers on site and had complimented the Ann Arbor police department and the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office for ensuring the safety of the 500 demonstrators at Frisinger Park, as well as those at other locations.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: June 7, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. May 21, 2010 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Here is a link to Jennifer Hall’s speech to City Council on May 17, from the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository ( I don’t know if the link will work, but it’s worth a try….

  2. By Mark Koroi
    May 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm | permalink

    The BBC correspondent referred to in Henry Herskovitz’s commentary should be “Alan Hart” not “Alan Hurt”